STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
With a crowd upwards of 100 people at any given time, the Bernie Sanders Tailgate and Watch Party was one of the more lively places to be on debate night.
“(Events like this) are important because they really know how to engage. People who believe certain things can go conglomerate with other people who … have similar values,” first-year Derek Mattson said.
The Tailgate was held in the US Bank parking lot with Jethro’s BBQ provided. And although some students came for the free food, there were more important things going on than pulled pork sandwiches.
“This election is about the people, not about the private special interest groups that are backing all the other politicians,” said Jack Reardon, a Des Moines high school senior who has devoted hours to volunteering for the Sanders campaign after hearing the candidate speak earlier this year.
“In monetary gain, I don’t get anything. I took time off of work to do this,” Reardon said. “I’m not getting paid to do this or anything like that, and that’s completely fine … It’s going to pay off in the long, long run.”
Reardon isn’t the only one to have this experience, as Mattson became motivated to work for the Sanders campaign that night.
“(The tailgate and watch party) got me more passionate,” Mattson said. “I’m going to volunteer now to help him (win the) caucus.”
The highlights and focus of the tailgate were those who spoke before the crowd. The most notable speaker was Dr. Cornel West, a political author and modern-day philosopher. His speech focused not on Sanders’ policies, unlike those before him, but instead on Sanders’ character.
“We need somebody with integrity,” West said. “We need somebody who will be themself … and is such a wonderful person to be.”
West was confident that Sanders would be successful in his campaign, and he wasn’t the only one. Every speaker promised that Sanders will be the 45th President of the United States.
After West’s speech ended, the crowd migrated to the Varsity Theater just a few blocks away to watch the debate itself. Waiting for the debate to begin in the auditorium, the organizers began asking those attending why they were supporting Sanders.
Although most of those in the audience were Des Moines locals, some of the most enthusiastic supporters had come from out of state for a chance to see Sanders.
One of the most memorable individuals was a 16-year-old from Washington D.C. who is lobbying Congress to pass a bill that would lower the voting age. He made the journey in the hopes that he’d be able to meet Sanders in person.
That wish would be granted, as Sanders elected to make an appearance after the debate.
A wave of energy and excitement took the crowd when they heard the news, and their cheers only increased in volume when Sanders entered the building.
His following address stuck to the classic Sanders script, speaking towards issues such as getting money out of campaigns and raising taxes on the rich in order to protect the middle class.
He applauded his supporters for their efforts in raising money for the Sanders campaign – and its average contribution of $28.54 – before making his way out of the theater.
However, it would still take him another half hour before he could leave the building, as he was again swamped by people hoping to shake his hand, take a photo or have a quick word with the senator from Vermont.
After Sanders finally departed, the crowd slowly began to disperse. Some went back to their cars while students returned to the normalcy of their dorms on campus. Still, it took some time before the buzz of excitement began to die down.
Supporters shared cell phone photos they took of the senator, while others continued discussing who they felt gained or lost ground in the debate itself – something that will be discussed in the coming weeks and months as the primary elections draw ever closer.